18 Mar 2016

Govt accused of politicising spy agencies

7:24 am on 18 March 2016

The government has been accused of politicising New Zealand's intelligence and security agencies, in the wake of the debate over "jihadi brides".

Rebecca Ketteridge and John Key

John Key, left, and Rebecca Kitteridge discussed jihadi brides last year. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Last year head of the SIS Rebecca Kitteridge and Prime Minister John Key spoke of New Zealand jihadi brides travelling to Syria and Iraq, and the threat that posed to domestic security.

Now it has come to light that none of the women actually left New Zealand, but travelled from Australia, prompting accusations the government is using intelligence information to drum up support for increased powers for the SIS and the GCSB.

Mr Key has denied misleading the public, saying the issue was not where the women left from, but if they decided to return to New Zealand.

He said he did not deliberately keep information from the New Zealand public.

"Not in the slightest. There are many and varied parts of this whole overall debate and whether someone leaves from Australia, leaves from New Zealand, could leave from New Zealand, might leave from New Zealand - they're all New Zealanders."

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei says the prime minister has politicised intelligence information. Photo: RNZ

However Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said Mr Key has been using information provided to him from the intelligence agencies, for his own political purposes.

She said it was a deliberate attempt to increase suspicion and fear amongst New Zealanders to justify increasing spy powers later.

Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer is a member of the Intelligence and Security committee, where the subject of jihadi brides was first raised last year. He said Ms Kitteridge was answering questions from committee members when John Key introduced the term 'jihadi brides' into the discussion.

"John Key had picked up that term and had run with it because it sounded good and when you find out what the real facts are it undermines the public's confidence in our agencies and the way that we gather intelligence."

Peter Dunne, United Future leader and a former member of the committee, said intelligence agencies had become increasingly politicised.

He does no think the prime minister deliberately set out to mislead the public about the so-called New Zealand jihadi brides, but he said the intelligence agencies activities are more political than they should be.

"We have seen it turned over the last, probably, two or three years into an unnecessarily hot political potato."

Speaking as Internal Affairs Minister Mr Dunne said there were ways to mitigate the risk of radicalised New Zealanders returning home, as the law allowed him to cancel passports under certain conditions.

But he declined to go into details about what could happen to passport holders currently in Iraq or Syria.

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